I BECOME A SNAKE-CHARMING DERVISH
I PLAYED a sort of overture to my real tuition in charming, by memorizing the Rifa-ee invocations and then handling various kinds of quite harmless snakes. Nevertheless, the latter were quite able and willing to bite me. The sensation of being bitten was exceedingly unpleasant, being something like having an angler's hook ripped through one's skin, However, the wounds were really superficial and free from any trace of venom. The next step was to handle poisonous snakes whose fangs had been extracted. These wretched reptiles, too, were fond of biting a mere novice like myself, until a time arrived when my incantations really seemed to work and when I developed so much confidence that I felt my own will being successfully imposed upon that of the snakes. This matter of courageous faith, concentrated thoughts and incessant will-power, I soon discovered to play quite an important part in rendering the creatures more tractable.
I continued my training by crossing the Nile, and going out into the desert with the Sheikh, hunting for venomous, full-fjinged snakes. He captured a couple of them, one being a large cobra with a beautifully coloured green skin streaked with yellow, and the other a smaller thin reptile with a diamond-shaped head and a pattern of diamonds all along its back. We brought them back, safely covered up in his basket, triumphantly to Luxor.
We took up a position in an open part of the garden. Moussa suddenly raised the lid and dipped nis hand into the basket, exdaimine:
"Now begins your first lesson. Hold this snake!'* The cobra was outstretched towards me, its head turning to and fro.
I was startled at this sudden command. Never before had I deliberately approached an unguarded snake at dose range, much less even attempted to hold one. I hesitated.